By: Ryan Kelly
The medical school application process can be cryptic, and the resume is no different.
What do admissions committees want to see? How should my resume look? Is X, Y, or Z important to include?
This confusion often causes students to include anything and everything in their resumes, in an attempt to cover all bases and hope the schools realize how great they are.
Your life is full of noise. Information that seems relevant to you (it’s your life, after all) isn’t always as relevant to graduate schools. You could present your life in all its technicolor glory like the following picture:
Let’s assume, though, that the only colors that are actually relevant to your schools are green, blue, and red. When presented like it is above, you can see that those colors exist, but it’s harder to see the quantity or the patterns because you get distracted by all the noise.
It’s more effective to present that same information like the following:
It’s the same information, but it’s better organized and easier to see the trends. Your resume should reflect a similar focus and organization. Organize experiences by type (think: like-colored lines). By trying to present every bit of information, you merely distort what should be the stand-out experiences.
With this focus in mind, here are our best tips for writing your pre-med resume:
Tip #1 - Think of your pre-med resume as an argument.
Use your resume to make a clear, targeted argument toward your current goal.
It might be a resume for a coveted research or leadership position along your pre-med path. It might be a resume you give to your letter of recommendation writers to guide what they include in their letters. It might be the “final” resume that you submit with your application and bring with you to interviews.
This means that you can’t use the same general resume you’d use for any job. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a pre-med resume. Recognizing the context/goals will help you filter out extraneous stuff and highlight what’s most relevant to your readers.
Tip #2 - Use relevant categories to make your argument.
Let’s say you’re about to graduate and want to fill your gap year with a job in research. Rather than submitting your general pre-med resume (basically all of your AMCAS work/activities), you should focus on prior research experience, education, leadership, and teaching/training roles. List these categories and experiences in order of relevance, not chronology (but most recent is often most relevant anyway).
These categories will show labs that you’re qualified for the demands of the job, but don’t forget to also include a few things that make you distinct. Perhaps you speak multiple languages, or have experience using sophisticated equipment that’s relevant to the lab.
If you’re giving the resume to letter writers, consider the context of your relationship with them. If they know you as a student, maybe provide a list of non-academic experiences that show you applying concepts/components from that class. If they know you as a student leader, show them experiences you’ve had as a leader within clinics and labs outside of campus. Give them relevant material that will supplement their assessment of you.
When you’re compiling a resume for the general application and interviews, it gets harder to filter down your experiences. However, it’s much better to establish depth and solidify a certain niche for yourself, rather than scatter their perception of you with a list of unrelated activities.
You might give your resume a clear focus on public health, bioengineering, psychiatry, or clinical research. The possibilities are as endless as the different pre-med paths. Not everyone has such a clear vision or correlation between experiences, but it’s great if you can make yourself look like a mini-specialist.
The “Education” category should be brief (don’t list high school). Include all colleges attended (most recent first), GPAs, and honor distinctions (like cum laude).
Supplemental categories like awards and skills should be kept to a minimum. These are just the sprinkles and cherries on top. Try narrowing these down to the most significant and personally meaningful. Do your best to be objective, think from your audience’s perspective, and consider whether an activity will build your pre-med argument or not.
Tip #3 - Cut the fluff!
It’s tricky for pre-meds, especially at first, to know whether something is necessary to include.
But here’s the truth: less is more. Much more. As someone who reads countless resumes, I can’t tell you how refreshing it is when I see a clean, concise, streamlined document. One page is great, and you should have a ceiling of two pages (one page front and back).
“But I really want them to get a full picture of me!”
That’s fair. But you can still be convincing in a small amount of space. Your readers are savvier than you think, and they’ll be able to absorb a lot from a 1-2 page resume.
Here are some good constraints to put on yourself:
Maximum of four bullet points for an experience
Keep each bullet to one line of text (two lines if necessary)
Remember that many parts of an activity/job description aren’t important for your reader to know. Let’s consider the following bullet:
Responsible for preparing and maintaining study participants’ records and case files, including documentation such as personal and eligibility information, services provided, contacts, and relevant correspondence
This stuff is important for you to know in your role, but to your audience, it boils down to this:
Responsible for maintaining participants’ case files
What’s important is that you were entrusted with sensitive information. All you need is one line.
Tip #4 - Show your “trackable progress.”
When building your pre-med resume’s argument, you want to show that you thrived within your different roles and were recognized for your contributions.
“Trackable progress” can be any number of things:
Earned promotion within first three months of working for Lab XYZ
Assigned new responsibilities of training recent hires and creating orientation manuals
Ran promotional campaign that tripled our club’s active membership
Garnered over half of the company’s referrals during the last two years
Updated and improved the lab’s protocols to cut costs by more than half
If possible, support these bullets with quantitative evidence and stats (EX: raised membership by 50%, trained 50+ employees, etc). This data will show a lot about your contributions without taking up too much space.
Tip #5 - Clarity is king.
DO NOT frustrate admissions committees or employers with convoluted or cluttered ideas. Here are two ways to achieve clarity in your resume:
Be consistent with layout, including how you list dates/hours. If you italicize the names of titles/positions, do it every time. If you align the dates to the left margin, do it every time. If you start bullets with action verbs (recommended), do it every time. I like .75 margins all around, Times New Roman font, and 10-11 font size, but again, it’s all about consistency.
Leave enough space between the information on the page so that it doesn’t appear like one huge block of text. In other words, let things breathe a bit. HINT: It’s easier to do this once you’ve cut the fluff in #3!
The two biggest grammatical mistakes people make in their resumes are tense and parallelism.
Put all your bullets in past tense if the activity is finished, present tense if it’s ongoing. Make sure you stay consistent within that activity.
Parallelism means making sure all items in a list are the same:
Lacking parallelism: "She likes cooking, jogging, and to read."
Parallel: "She likes cooking, jogging, and reading."
Parallel: "She likes to cook, jog, and read."
It seems simple, but it’s easy to muck it up when your list is long and complex. Make sure you’re not mixing nouns and verbs, gerunds and infinitives, etc.
Whether you’re revising your pre-med resume or just getting started, I hope this advice will help you avoid common pitfalls and stand out from the stack of other applications.
If you adhere to my tips, I guarantee you’ll produce a document that shows you as both qualified and distinct. Best of luck!